Aristocrat’s Lightning Link was the first brand to employ the game mechanics with its “Hold & Spin” game technology.
Twenty-six years go, slot-maker IGT started a trend that would lead to one of the most popular—and most copied—slot game mechanics in history. Correct—the bonus wheel.
IGT’s Wheel of Fortune actually was the second game to employ a roulette-style wheel above mechanical spinning reels. A year before that game was released in 1996, Bally had released a game called Wheel of Gold that employed the same style of wheel. It actually had been patented by Anchor Gaming and released by Bally in partnership with Anchor in that game, a slant-top mechanical reel-spinner with a physical bonus wheel.
IGT subsequently bought Anchor Gaming and the patent for the wheel feature. Bally successfully sued to produce its own wheel games, and eventually, the patent was declared invalid, after which a flood of games with wheel bonuses poured forth from all the slot manufacturers.
The wheel has become a mainstay of the slot floor, with scores of manufacturers each producing their own versions of wheels that operate in a manner very similar to that original Bally Wheel of Gold game. It has become a widely accepted element of an array of slot games to this day.
Fast-forward to 2022, and meet the new wheel. It’s called the hold-and-re-spin bonus. The idea is that the player is given a certain number of free spins in which to collect icons of some value, the prizes for which accumulate. More often than not, the symbols involved are so-called “cash-on-reels” symbols—a symbol that simply displays a credit award.
If the number of free spins is three, every time one of those special symbols appears, it locks in place on that reel spot and the free-spin meter goes back to three. The rest of the reels spin, and every time an additional cash symbol appears, it locks in place for the accumulating award and the spin meter returns to three.
This type of bonus ends when either three spins yield none of the special symbols, or the entire screen is filled with the symbols.
Filling the entire screen with special symbols has become known as a “blackout,” and for many games, it results in the game’s top progressive jackpot.
This type of bonus first appeared on the Aristocrat game franchise Lightning Link, launched in Australia and New Zealand in 2014. It was invented by legendary game designer Scott Olive, who was Aristocrat’s top designer at the time, and who still designs games for the manufacturer from his proprietary Australian game studio, HRG Studios.
Dubbed “Hold & Spin” by Aristocrat, the persistent game mechanic has resurfaced repeatedly from slot-makers across the spectrum. Whether called “Lock & Spin,” “Hold-and-Respin” or any number of other proprietary brands, the basic feature is similar to Lightning Link, Dragon Link and a wealth of other games from Aristocrat.
Slot manufacturers are almost required to offer hold-and-re-spin games in their product libraries these days, for one simple reason: players love it. In fact, players require it.
Olive, who in 2021 was inducted into the EKG Slot Hall of Fame by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, comments that the simple thrill of the chase is what keeps Hold & Spin popular with players.
“With Hold & Spin, what you see is what you get,” Olive says. “The mechanics make it exciting for players to see what they are chasing in the game. Simplicity is the secret ingredient for the best and most enduring games.”
Like the wheel before it, hold-and-re-spin has likely achieved a permanent spot in the world of slot design. In 2023, we can expect a parade of new games that showcase this simple, ingenious play mechanic.